Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Jamie Grundy

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from writer, researcher and trainer Jamie Grundy – who has had a bit of a rough start to 2020. Big love to you Jamie. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Down but Not Out

Up until mid-February this year things were going pretty well for me. I’d been self-employed for just over three years and finally it was paying off. I mainly work as a trainer supporting people with convictions. Most weeks I’m in and out of prisons, and my skills were in demand from the School of Hard Knocks, Youth Cymru, Inside Out Support Wales and others. I was due to go to New York with my book, ’90 Minutes of Freedom’ on the only prisoner football team in Wales. For the first time in 36 months I could breathe.

Life was good.

Then it all changed.

First my marriage broke down after 24 years together and we amicably made plans to keep my daughter in her home, to minimise the impact on her life. That meant I’d move into a new place, close by. I dealt with this difficult news in a practical sense: finding a new place to rent, scouring Gumtree for bargain furniture, leaning on the crucial support of friends who’d been through this before. Everyone is going through their own unique challenges with the coronavirus and the impending lockdown wasn’t the main thing on my mind at this time, unsurprisingly.

I have a colleague in South Korea and the photos on social media of her with a facemask on, self-isolating with her partner, seemed a world away. That couldn’t happen here – could it? But then my work stopped, one client after another pulled, over the course of a week. Next to follow were my speaking engagements in New York. One, then another until all were cancelled, with my contact there informing me everything was closing down because people were dying in significant numbers. Two days before my flight, the USA extended their travel ban to include the UK and the decision was made for me: I was staying put.

The hardest blow came next. As the lockdown was imposed and we all got used to a the new phrase of ‘social distancing’ and what it meant, I was unable to move out into a new property by the letting agent, because businesses were closing down and staff were furloughed. This stay-at-home isolation was not letting me move on to a new stage in my life, physically. It also provided the perfect metaphor of an enforced lockdown where, no matter how you may feel about it, you are remaining where you are. The additional body blow of a total lack of income from no work, hit me hard below the belt.

I couldn’t move out. I couldn’t move on. I couldn’t earn. I was together but alone. The only person who was going to get me out of this was me.

A glimmer of hope was announced with government financial support for the self-employed and at the time of writing I’ve made all the necessary applications and I’m waiting to hear what I’ll get. But I wouldn’t be able to rely on this to see me through. Plus, I was acutely aware, with a lockdown being witnessed globally, this could be a new normal – another new phrase we were hearing. One aspect of this was how incredibly technologically able we were becoming. Friends, parents, kids and everyone was on Zoom, Houseparty and Skype to stay in contact with each other. This I realised was my opportunity.

I purchased a webinar licence, Webinarjam, and had my website redesigned to sell online training courses. The previous sessions I’d run on supporting people with a criminal conviction for support workers were adapted. I ran a couple of test events including a training webinar for staff from the School of Hard Knocks, plus I did an online book talk, to learn through this experience. It worked and the feedback was positive! This new-normal of online learning could be my personal support mechanism through this time. I spent weeks developing additional courses and putting them online on my website. So far it is working. People are booking on them and I’m throwing myself into this to do the best I can.

Anyone who’s self-employed will know, if you don’t put the effort in, it’s unlikely to work out. I’ve spent more weekends and evenings than I can remember over the last six weeks to try to make this successful.

If it doesn’t work, then I’ve tried to create a back-up plan. I’m hoping to begin work as a part-time delivery driver soon. This won’t just give me a much needed wage, it will also get me out of the house. I will be driving beyond the two mile radius to the shops and back that I’ve not extended beyond in weeks. I will be providing a much needed service to people, bring the goods they’ve ordered online to them so they can stay home with their families. I’ll be meeting and talking to new people and I’ve missed that more than anything.

Having spent a lot of time in my previous work talking to former prisoners, I have heard first-hand the challenges they have endured and come through, because of their prison sentence: being forcibly isolated from their families, friends and children because of their conviction.

I have not known that type of incarceration, but the parallel is there with our current lockdown situation, albeit in diluted form. These conversations help me to know that I will get through this. I also think back to my grandparent’s generation: how they coped with the challenges of war and how they got through.

We are all going through our unique challenges, but by taking things a day at a time and not looking too far ahead, there will come a time when we will all be able to look back at this time as an historical, not present day, event in our lives.

Jamie Grundy is  an Independent Trainer, Educator & Researcher who works in Prison Education, Higher Education and Community Development. Follow him on his website jamiegrundy.net / Jamie Grundy on Facebook / Jamie Grundy on Twitter / Jamie Grundy LinkedIn

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